Language Learning Stack Exchange currently has sixteen questions about , fifteen questions about and twenty questions about . There is no doubt that spaced repetition is good for retention.

However, some people use paper flash cards, while others use digital flash cards. This leads me to the question whether there are any studies that show that paper flash cards are more effective for retention than digital flash cards (or the other way round). For the purpose of this question, it does not matter whether digital flash cards are online or stored locally. However, since making your own flash cards requires active involvement with the learning materials it probably has a learning effect. Hence, in order to compare like with like, studies should compare the effect on retention of self-made paper flash cards, i.e. written or created by hand, and self-made digital flash cards.

I found some discussion of this on Quora: Is learning with paper flashcards more effective than learning with digital flashcards?, but the answers there don't cite any studies. I would like to see studies that compare both types of media (paper versus digital) with regard to retention.

  • Intuitively, I'd attribute at least some of this to the fact that you (typically) make paper flashcards by writing them out, so you have the experience of actually physically writing the information. And, as we've already established, writing things down helps you memorize. Or are you asking specifically about the medium, i.e. the difference between using Anki and just printing out my collection?
    – Hatchet
    Jan 20, 2019 at 15:25
  • @Hatchet You raise a good point. I have now clarified that both types should be self made and the paper ones written by hand.
    – Tsundoku
    Jan 20, 2019 at 18:27
  • From my experience if you use irl paper cards you just end up remembering defects in the card when it comes to the harder cards. However, since making your own flash cards requires active involvement with the learning materials it probably has a learning effect I'll have to disagree with the other commenters here. If you're using it for vocabulary or examples, you'll be making lots of cards at a time so you won't be gaining anything by writing them down, past maybe the first handful. Feb 1, 2019 at 7:51

2 Answers 2


Through some basic Google-fu, I found a couple studies, but they have problems:

  • Gilbert Dizon, Daniel Tang. Comparing the efficacy of digital flashcards versus paper flashcards to improve receptive and productive L2 vocabulary. March 2017. In: The EuroCALL Review 25(1):3-15. DOI:10.4995/eurocall.2017.6964. Available via Researchgate.

This, however, isn't spaced repetition.

  • Akbar, R., Al-Hashemi, A., Taqi, H., & Sadeq, T. (2013). Efficacy of learning: Digital sources versus print. Journal of Education and Practice, 4(8), 98-114. Available via academia.edu.

This uses Supermemo, which is not the most used SRS. This may make the results less reliable. It was also questionably set to 96% retention when most people recommend figures closer to 90% or 80%.

These studies are also lab-based, with given intervals, as opposed to e.g. use when commuting, which means factors such as ease of transport aren't taken into account.

The studies are generally unconclusive, (i.e., there's very little difference between paper and digital). Memory is linked to reported ease of use. Importantly, the students didn't create the flashcards themselves in either case, since the students all had to learn the same pre-defined content for the results to be comparable.


I guess, that you'll use both variants. Why I think so: - Paper cards better, because when you are writing, some information left in your brains. But too difficult to keep big numbers of cards. - Digital cards good because you can take it everywhere you want - just take the phone with you.

So the only combination of different ways of study will give you excellent results

  • 2
    Welcome to Language Learning Stack Exchange and thank you for your contribution. I would like to point out that this question asks for studies (i.e. scientific papers), not for opinions, educated guesses or informal advice. Please edit your answer to back it up with proper references.
    – Tsundoku
    Jan 30, 2019 at 12:19

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